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After Family Emigrated from Ecuador, Amy Chalán Vacacela Makes Them Proud by Becoming the First Ever Kichwa Saraguro Harvard Graduate

After Family Emigrated from Ecuador, Amy Chalán Makes Them Proud by Becoming the First Ever Kichwa Saraguro Harvard Graduate
Credit: El Mercurio: ANTONIO VACACELA

Amy Chalán Vacacela, a trailblazing figure from the Chukidel Ayllullakta community, has etched her name in history as the first Kichwa Saraguro individual to graduate from Harvard University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences. 

Hailing from Ecuador, Amy represents a strong people, a subset of the Kichwa nation. Their community, known for its enduring spirit and preservation of customs, is comprised of approximately 22,000 Saraguro individuals dispersed across the globe. (Yet, most are known to live in Ecuador.) Also, it is of note that most Saraguro people are bilingual – they speak Spanish and Quechua.  

According to El Mercurio, Amy’s family lineage intertwined with the Saraguro legacy commenced when her grandfather embarked on a journey to the United States in 1994. This monumental migration was later followed by her grandmother’s migration in 2000, along with Amy and her mother two years thereafter. The trials and triumphs faced over nearly 30 years shaped Amy’s trajectory, paving the way for her groundbreaking academic achievement at Harvard. 

“It’s not just a personal success; this achievement speaks volumes about how this path has been built since my family came almost 30 years ago. We are migrants, from low-income backgrounds, we came undocumented, faced many barriers in the system, but my family was a great support since my childhood to be here today,” Amy told El Mercurio. 

Raised in Tarrytown, New York, Amy’s contributions at Harvard extend beyond academia. Her role as a student coordinator in the Minority Recruitment Program underscores her commitment to fostering inclusion, particularly for Latino and indigenous youth, resonating deeply with her community’s ethos. 

Amy’s journey mirrors the struggles of migration, propelling her toward social work and the empowerment of migrant communities and underprivileged children, advocating for their access to higher education. 

Yet, amid the pinnacle of her academic journey, the challenges of the pandemic in 2020 led Amy on a transformative path. Battling profound depression, she contemplated leaving university but chose to take a semester off, reconnecting with her roots among the Kichwa Saraguro people, revitalizing her sense of identity and heritage amid trying times. 

“Returning to my land where my ancestors are from and delving into my roots gave me energy in the darkest period of my life. I was able to learn about my traditions, the music of my town, meet my family, and be part of the mingas,” Amy shared with El Mercurio. 

Amy Chalán Is Making the Saraguro Community Proud

Amy’s impact transcends academia. She orchestrated the ‘Saraguro Sk8’ youth meeting, using sports, particularly skateboarding, as a conduit for intergenerational dialogues about mental health. Collaborating with bilingual intercultural schools in Saraguro, she facilitated discussions on migrant realities and the empowerment of indigenous youth. 

Her dedication to education spans globally, exemplified by the ‘Wallpak Wamprakuna’ program, fostering learning and cultural exchange among Kichwa youth across continents. 

Amy Chalán epitomizes community-centric leadership, paving the way for indigenous youth to embrace their heritage while forging a path toward an equitable future. Her four-year journey at Harvard provides hope and inspiration for the 22,000-strong global community of Kichwa Saraguro individuals – and other people from indigenous communities.  

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